The basic premise behind “Competition” comes from a natural offshoot of the corporation-centric world “The Duel” was set in: that, in this near-future, corporations have taken over much of the roles once performed by the public sector. In this case, it is policing. To read another excerpt from it, click on this post.
“Collared” – Excerpt from “Competition” by Aric Catron
Reg left Alice at the kitchen door and made his way through the main room, passing the woman on the floor. She was semi-conscious – and stirred from her prone position.
“Don’t move, ma’am – if you move too far from where the tag was placed, you’ll get a nasty shock.”
The woman moaned in response.
“Reggie, you need to get in position. He knows I’m here.”
“Roger. I’m moving to the front door now-”
The ARCHIE thing in his head warned him a vehicle was approaching.
“Wait. Alice, another vehicle is arriving.”
Reg peeked out the open door. The vehicle was hidden by some scrub, but it appeared red – the color of Redstone Security.
“That’s my guess.”
ARCHIE updated and identified the vehicle and two occupants as Redstone Security Agents. Alice came back over the radio and told him to rejoin her, but Reg wanted to wait and see if he could get a look at who they were dealing with.
He frowned when Alice told him they could at least arrest the woman for failure to follow instructions. It was technically true, but she appeared to be the victim here. He didn’t like the idea of making an arrest simply for money – even if that was ultimately their job, according to the corporation. He wanted to become a public police officer, but there just weren’t that many police forces left – and even fewer job openings – and those that existed spent most of their time guarding government buildings. If you wanted to work in the police in any city, you worked for one of the security agencies.
Reg shrugged it off – he had work to do. He pulled up the tag interface and locked it out – meaning only a properly registered UP Security Agent could remove it. Redstone would have no control over the woman, at the least – giving UP some legal precedent.
“Property rights,” he muttered. “It’s about property rights.”
A Redstone Agent boomed from the ruins of the door, “We are licensed Redstone Security Agents responding to a call. All personnel are required to exit peacefully, with their hands raised, or we will use force to extract them.”
“Too late,” Reg called back, “Universal Protection already has this call.”
There was no response, so Reg reported back to Alice and moved to join her in the kitchen.
“Now, we go through the door.” Alice said.
“That’s a pissy idea.”
“I’m not going back empty-handed here.”
There was a loud bang.
Reg brought his sidearm up and switched it to lethal mode as he sprinted for the door. ARCHIE warned him of possible threats outside and suggested Reg surrender reflex control to the computer. Reg ignored it. He wasn’t about to let a machine make decisions for him with a potential shooter outside.
He heard the shot just as he burst through the door. He saw Alice spin in his peripheral vision and, despite knowing there was a threat directly in front of him, looked to her. Blood splattered the wall of the house and her left arm hung at a twisted angle. Then, in a blink, it righted itself – and Alice – and she made it behind the cover of a dented and rusty clothes dryer.
ARCHIE flashed a dozen warnings at once. Reg tried to dive to his left, but the defensive reflex program had different ideas and flung Reg to the right – and towards a nearby truck. Two more shots came from behind the pile of wood, and a detached part of Reg’s mind noted if he went left, he would have been hit. ARCHIE saved him.
Reg slid behind the truck and heard the distinctive sound of Alice’s sidearm firing three rapid-fire shots. He brought his own weapon up to aim at the heat signature behind the pile of wood. ARCHIE fired off more warnings, this time from behind him. He spun frantically and aimed at the corner of the house – at a Redstone Agent using the house for cover. The agent fired over Reg’s head.
“Cease fire!” Reg yelled. “We’re friendlies!”
The Redstone Agent ignored him and fired two more shots. Reg cursed. Several more rounds came from the direction of the woodpile. Reg, Alice, and the Redstone Agent all returned fire.
“Got him!” Alice trumpeted.
ARCHIE confirmed a kill – and confirmed the bullet tracked to impact was one of Alice’s.
“You’re no longer needed here, Redstone,” Alice yelled. “Universal Protection already collared one and eliminated another.”
“This isn’t your jurisdiction, UP.” The Redstone Agent, a large man, growled back.
“It ain’t yours either,” Reg replied.
The Redstone Agent chose not to respond, instead walking back to the front of the house.
“Reggie, go make sure they don’t try to take the woman from us. I’ll check on our trigger happy friend here. The bus is already on the way.”
Reg didn’t want to take the woman in – even if she technically violated the law. Failure to follow the instructions of a licensed security agent was a crime, a misdemeanor, and punishable by a fine and several months in a detention facility. He knew his company would push for both – they received twenty percent of all fines, and the “detention facility” would put her to work for a few dollars a day – making more money for Universal Protection and their parent corporation, Universal Global Solutions.
But, he reasoned, that wasn’t his concern. He had a job to do – a job he was paid to do. He walked back in the house. The woman was on her knees, using the couch for support and trying to stand.
“Please don’t stand up,” he said. The right side of her face was purple and bloated. The man must have been hitting her just before they arrived.
“If you move too much, the tag will engage and you’ll get a hell of a shock. Trust me, you don’t want that.”
“Where…where is Jim – where’s my husband?” Her voice shook.
Reg frowned. The woman stood on wobbly legs.
“Is he the one that did this to you?”
She stared at his feet. Reg noted she had grey hairs and more than a few wrinkles. He guessed her age at fifty or sixty. ARCHIE told them the house belonged to James and Aileen Roth, sixty-one and fifty-seven, respectively. The man outside must be James, or Jim, and she was Aileen.
“Aileen, is that your name, Aileen?”
She nodded. Her eyes remained fixed on the floor.
“Jim – he’s your husband?”
Again she nodded – just a tip of her chin.
“He had a gun?”
A sob escaped her lips.
“Aileen, Jim shot at us. We had to return fire – he’s been hit. I don’t know how bad, but help is on the way.”
“He’s dead, isn’t he?”
Reg held up his hands, “I don’t know.”
It started off as a hum. A low murmur from the depths of her throat. It grew in volume, but not in depth. It was toneless, hollow – a sound of absolute despair and resignation.
“No!” It broke from her lips in a cry. She lurched toward Reg in an uncoordinated jerk.
His warning was too late, and fell on ears that could hear only their own anguish. Her next step was one step too far from the original tag location. It triggered a debilitating electrical shock.
The tone of her scream changed and filled with pain. She dropped to the floor, back arched and eyes wild. Reg winced. Part of his training was to experience a tag device. The pain filled the entire body and made you feel like your nerves were on fire. You lost control of everything – even you voice. The screams were primal and instinctual. It only lasted for five seconds, but could feel like hours to the person experiencing it.
Reg ran up to her and did as he was trained. He held her in place to prevent the seizures from causing additional injury. When the shock passed, he checked to make sure she was breathing and had a pulse. Aileen sobbed the entire time.
“What was that?” Alice must have heard the screams.
“The woman tried to move too far.”
“Alright. We have enough for her then. Detain her for failure to follow instructions, interfering with an investigation, and resisting detention.”
“Alice,” Reg tried to reason with her. “I think he was abusing her. She’s just scared – and now she found out her husband might be dead.”
“He is. And it doesn’t matter – we don’t determine innocence or guilt. That is up to the advocates. We just detain them. Besides, you know they aren’t going to be happy we brought one in dead.”
Reg sighed. Alice was right, of course. Universal was paid a flat fee for dead criminals – and, in a situation like this, they would have to pay for Alice’s injuries – taking away from profit. Dead perps were a net loss, when everything was considered. James would have been sentenced to several decades in a detention facility if he lived – decades of cheap labor for UP. Now, he was a write-off.
Aileen would give them something to try to break even with.
“Aileen Roth, as a licensed security agent of the City of Olympia and State of Washington, it is my duty to inform you that you are being detained for failing to follow the instructions of a security agent, for resisting arrest, and for interfering with an investigation. From this moment forward, all your actions will be recorded for use in court. You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand this?”
Aileen continued to sob.
“Unless you are incapacitated, refusal to respond is considered acknowledgment. You are to remain here until instructed otherwise by Universal Protection Security Agents. The tag device will remain active.”
Aileen rolled to her side and refused to look at him.
“Good work, Reggie. That’s your first honest-to-god detention.” Alice chimed in, over the radio.